Not tonight. She wasn’t supposed to be home tonight. I checked her schedule like
I always do; she should be teaching Therapeutic Yoga. The music in the bathroom must have been too loud so I didn’t hear her come in. I shoot Henry a dangerous look. He knows how important tonight is. I finally get to see Zan, maybe fix things with her, tell her the news. He should’ve come told me. His head ducks behind his book. Beauty and the Beast – what eight-year-old boy reads that? I glare through the cover, but he’s not about to make eye contact.
Mom’s in our faded green kitchen standing in front of the open fridge. The thick scent of her lavender, lemon grass, and clove essential oils fills the air. They’re supposed to calm her, but they don’t seem to be working tonight, instead they mingle badly with the odor wafting out of the fridge. Something’s rotten in there.
“I want to show the house this weekend.” She’s agro on the phone, her back tense. “I don’t care. It’s taking too long. Sell it as is! Someone will buy – urgh!”
Her body seizes, knuckles turn white. She hurls the phone through the air. I catch my breath and duck. It hits the wall, but ricochets towards my face. My hand shoots out and catches it.
Her eyes glance off me, before she turns back to the fridge. “I can’t believe how much we’re supposed to fix just to get a buyer,” she mutters, grabbing the jug of milk and drinking straight from the bottle.
Sometimes Mom apologizes, but, I guess tonight isn’t that night.
It’s ok. I know she didn’t mean to clobber me with the phone. I place it carefully on the green tiled countertop.
“No class?” I ask, my fingers tug down the hem of my pink skirt.
“I need to talk to your dad.” She stares at the movement of my fingers. The only time she notices me is when she thinks I’m doing something wrong. “Where are you going? Not to your tree house, I’m guessing.”
I wish I’d never told her about the Sanctuary. She has no idea what it means. It’s more my home than this place. My fingers wrap around the weathered back of a wooden chair. I glare at a cobweb that stretches from the wall to the rifle that rests on top of the book shelf. The place is so cluttered I can barely breathe.
“I’m meeting Zan.” I try to make it sound casual, like it’s no big deal, but she knows.
“I thought you two weren’t speaking,” she says.
“How’s your stomach?” I nod towards the milk.
“She hasn’t been at the studio this summer.” Mom caps the milk and crams it back in the fridge. There’s nothing but the cracked tiles of the countertop between us now.
“She’s been at camp.” I swallow and fidget. I think that’s where she’s been. She hasn’t returned my texts all summer.
“The one Aiden goes to.”
“In Europe?” Mom raises an eyebrow.
“I guess.” I press a polished fingernail into a deep crack in the counter and dig at some crud nestled there. If m
y nails weren’t so strong, they’d probably break. I dig harder at the grime, but it’s impossible to get completely out.
“Why didn’t you invite them over?” Mom asks.
“Seriously?” I scrape the black goop out from under my nail and wipe it on a stack of newspapers.
“Go read to your brother.” Mom’s fingers clench the edge of the stained basin.
“We’re just hanging out at Zan’s house.” I say it like it’s the truth. Her eyes narrow. I look straight into them. People don’t think you’re lying if you look them in the eye.
“I want you home,” she says.
“Why?” My molars scrape against each other to help get the word out.
“Call her and say you’re not coming.” She leafs through a lopsided pile of mail to let me know the conversation is over.
“I’ve been waiting all summer to see Zan!” There’s no way I can wait another night. She doesn’t even know we’re moving. My pinky finger taps against a broken tile.
Mom glances up, her eyes cold. I stop my finger mid-tap. It’s hopeless. Why didn’t Henry tell me she was home? This so could have been avoided. Zan and I have spent our whole lives dodging Mom. I twist in my ballet slipper to make a quiet exit, but Mom’s not having it. “Call her,” she says. “Right now.”
I bite my lips and rake through my purse for my phone. This can’t be happening. I’ll burst if I don’t tell her about the move or about Aiden, how I feel about him. My temperature goes up just thinking about him. The gold necklace, as fragile as it is, lays heavy against my skin. I’ve never worn it, not in the whole year I’ve had it, but I had to tonight. If Aiden really did give it to me, it’s time he saw me wearing it. Who else would have left a gold necklace wrapped up in newspaper in the back of Dad’s truck on my birthday?
“Call her,” Mom repeats in that steel tone I can’t go up against. If I do, it doesn’t end well.
I can’t believe I’m not going to see Zan tonight. It’s going to suck if I can’t see her until the first day of school. It’s another week!
Mom’s eyes bore into me. I might as well get this over with. I press 1 on my speed dial.
It’s almost weird Zan answers on the first ring. She hasn’t done that all summer.
“I can’t go.” I squeeze my eyes shut and hold my breath. What if she stops talking to me again?
“What’d you do to piss the witch off this time?” My eyes pop open. She sounds like my old Zan. I hope Mom
can’t hear her.
“I’ll see you at school.” The mumbled words rush out.
“Sure.” Zan’s warm chuckle, almost like a growl, echoes through my phone as she hangs up. I sound like an elephant as I stomp out of the kitchen.
“Your phone.” Mom’s voice stops my stride.
“It’s eight. I have an hour ‘til phones out.” My voice rises.
“You don’t need it tonight.” She holds her hand out. “Go read to your brother.”
“You’re kidding me!”
“Shae, I am tired of arguing with you.” Her eyelids lower to half-mast. I quickly, really quickly, pull myself in check.
It’s not worth it. It’s not worth it.
I focus on my mantra and deposit my phone in her outstretched hand. My gaze focuses on her lips, they’ve paled, but they’re not blue, that ice blue they get when she’s about to lose it.
“Go read to your brother,” she repeats.
I spin on my heel and stride through the cold, dark living room, sidestepping the creepy stairs that lead up to my parents’ room. I slap the back of my brother’s head hard as I walk by.
“Ow!” he cries. But, he doesn’t say more. He knows. We have an unspoken agreement to look after each other and he broke it.
I slam my bedroom door and a framed photo of me and Mom topples backwards on the dresser. The photo is from our last trip to the zoo when I was five. It’s the only smiling photo of us that exists. The chill descends from the crown of my head, narrows my vision, freezes my lips, and squashes my heart until the pain flies out my arms. My fist smashes down on it, shattering glass across our smiling faces.
My room is full of dark shadows as soft moonlight sifts through the tree that spreads above our deck. Its branches creak in the canyon breeze that pushes through my open window. A coyote howls in the distance. I want to howl right along with it. Let off some steam, run through the hills. Get away from Mom, get to wherever Zan is.
Zan, Roman, and Aiden. The gust glides across my face. It’s weird not to include Callum in our group, but he hasn’t really hung around us in more than a year.
My nails dig into my palms. I exhale. Try to let it all go. Frustration leads to annoyance; leads to anger. Mom’s words beat a steady rhythm in my head. Breathe in the flowers, blow out the candles.
She’s right. I’ve destroyed my room half a dozen times this summer getting angry. I tug the chain of the broken dragonfly lamp that casts dim patches of green, yellow and red light across the shadows. It leans half-cocked against the broken mirror. I still use it. Just because a thing’s broken doesn’t mean it’s not useful. The light doesn’t ease the chill slipping over me. My hand slides over the dent in my iron framed headboard. I want to smash it again.
Breathe in the flowers, blow out the candles.
Everyone says anger makes them hot, but maybe they don’t get mad enough. For me it’s like ice, cutting me off from everyone I care about and making me do stupid things.
Maybe I shouldn’t meet Zan for the party. I can’t lose it again in front of them. My shoulders fold forward. I still can’t believe I overturned the food table at Callum’s party. They must think I’m an idiot. If I’d known how I felt about Aiden, I wouldn’t have been blindsided. I could have controlled myself. But, I didn’t get it. And… well, he was ignoring me. The three of them huddled together all night whispering. You’d think they’d just come out and say, “We’re going to Europe this summer for camp.” My chest tightens. Whether they said anything or not, it still hurts.